Ace of Spades is a debut YA thriller by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé that follows two black students at a prestigious academy who begin to have their secrets exposed to the school. It is published by Usborne on the 10th of June 2021.
I was lucky enough to review an ARC courtesy of Usborne and read the book before the publication date. All views, as always, are my own.
If you have already seen my star rating, then there is no getting away from the fact that I loved Ace of Spades. Now is my opportunity to tell you exactly why.
From the description, you might surmise that this book has shades of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. I will admit that these were two of my favourite shows, particularly Gossip Girl which I lived for at one time in my life. Ace of Spades is even better than these two for many reasons, one of these being the way that the author, who let’s not forget is a debut, handles the plot. She is very clever about the way she goes about this so that what seems at first to be an isolated incident slowly develops into something bigger. The plot has a certain weight to it that makes it hard to ignore, and almost impossible to forget.
Typically, I am not a huge fan of thrillers because I tend to be left feeling as though they lack substance. However, this is a thriller that makes you think. Yes, it has the chilling moments that have you on the edge of your seat, and it is still a fun read that plays with some tropes you want and expect, but it also has a lasting impact. Some scenes are still so vivid in my mind because they encapsulated the fun and the horror elements of a good thriller. One scene that revolves around a stakeout and a revelation made me feel ill with the realisation of what was going on, and how deep the roots of the problem ran.
The pacing is excellent as the author gives us time to breathe amidst the bigger scenes. This plays into the characterisation because in these moments we get to learn about our characters away from the thrilling aspects of the book. If you took out the triller elements then you would still have a very enjoyable book, and I think that is very important. This shows that the book does not depend on the thriller element and can stand on its own two feet.
There was one element of the book that I did not enjoy. If you have been following me for a while then you might already know that I do not enjoy epilogues. There are exceptions to the rule, but this was not one of them. I understand why it was there and agree that it does offer some hope and rounds off the story, but that does not mean that I liked it. That said I out of almost 500 pages, the epilogue was a very minor addition and did not impact my love of the book overall.
The book had a lot to say about isolation and loneliness through our two main characters. The chapter perspective is split between Chiamaka, who is very popular, and Devon, a scholarship kid from the rough side of town. Together these characters hammer home the fact that their blackness is still a defining factor in the way in which they are perceived by their peers. The following quote did an excellent job of encapsulating how Chiamaka views her blackness:
“I don’t straighten my hair because I hate it, I straighten it because everyone else hates it for me.”
This is one of the quotes that halted me in my reading so that I could take a moment and think about it. It is almost a throwaway line about the fact that Chiamaka is annoyed that her straighteners aren’t working. However, I think that a lot is said in this single line. The author is talking about black hair, self-love, white perceptions of black people, and racial hatred. It is the sort of line that hits like a gut punch, and there are plenty more of these instances.
Both Chiamaka and Devon and wonderfully illustrated in a way that makes them feel very natural. They have shades of Blair Waldorf and a less annoying Dan Humphries but are their own characters. They feel very natural because they aren’t perfect, they are just people. A lot of the heavy lifting for the character is done through an exploration of their relationships, which was a great way to build them up. The relationships also explore the LGBTQIA+ rep which is very present in the book.
Overall, I did give Ace of Spades a full five out of five stars stating. It is fun but, it also hits hard and is very aware of the message it is trying to convey. I did not want it to end, and by not pre-ordering you are 100% missing out.
I would like to leave this review with a second quote from the book in the hope that it gives you some food for thought.
They treat my black skin like a gun or a grenade or a knife that is dangerous and lethal when really, it’s them.
Ace of Spades is available to pre-order from the usual places, such as Waterstones and Amazon. Don’t forget to support your local bookshops where possible, or request this book from your local library.